Is it okay to sit out the Canadian national anthem?

screengrabBy Darshan Maharaja

At a meeting of Peel District School Board in Mississauga, some attending South Asians did not rise for the national anthem, O Canada. Globally even visiting tourists in other nations stand up as a mark of respect when the national anthem is being sung / played. Contrary to that custom, these South Asians were not willing to stand up even for the national anthem of the very country to which they immigrated of their own volition. Their transgression appears all the more childish when we learn their reason for being present at that meeting. According to reports, they were part of a delegation that had been sent to make a complaint that the children of their community were being treated disrespectfully in their schools. Clearly, these respectable representatives were not mature enough to realize that when accusing a person or institution of misbehavior, if the accuser engages in exactly the same kind of misbehavior, it weakens their case.

There is a tradition in Canadian society, especially in public discourse, of excessive cordiality – what its critics call ‘political correctness’. With a sense of duty to point out the details of this incident in the interest of better understanding – even if it means we have to ignore the boundaries defined by this destructive form of formality – it should be mentioned that this delegation was from the Muslim community. It is worth noting here that Muslim students have been given a special accommodation to pray inside their schools on Fridays, an accommodation that is not available to students adhering to any other religion. After such special treatment, even if the Muslim community has an objection against any policy or action of the schools or the board, it behooved them to find a civilized way of conveying that objection. That they couldn’t find it reveals their priorities.

When a lone-actor (or a group of few) Muslim(s) engages in condemnable behavior, it is customary for other Muslims and their apologists to hide behind the argument that the transgressions of a few cannot be used to malign the whole community. However, in this case, these gentlemen had been chosen by the local Muslim community as their representatives. There is, therefore, no way the community can escape from owning responsibility for their chosen representatives’ behavior.

What is really regrettable here is that such events feed the narrative of divisiveness that is promoted by some of our politicians. As we have seen earlier, one contender for the leadership of the federal PC Party, Ms. Kelly Leitch, has already proposed a policy along these divisive lines. Unfortunately, there is an extremist segment in our society that is convinced that no matter which country they settle in, Muslims are not able to be loyal to their country of residence, unless it happens to be an Islamic country. In their view, the only motivation for Muslims to immigrate to the West has to do with economic reasons, or to feed off the welfare state, or, in extreme cases, to spread Jihad. This belief is of course false. Whether in Canada or USA or Britain, Muslims as a community are as useful members of their society as any other group, and contribute positively, whether as doctors, engineers, lawyers, journalists or indeed in any other walk of life. But when it comes to voicing objections over grievances real or perceived, such misguided approach tarnishes the entire Muslim community. This reminds us of the character of Doc Daneeka in the famous novel, Catch-22, whose idea of having a good time was to sulk. ‘Why me?’ was his constant lament.

The Toronto-based academic of Pakistani origin, Murtaza Haider, analyzed the community’s attitudes in a recent article published in Pakistan’s top-most daily, Dawn. According to him, the Pakistani-origin immigrants settled in Toronto prefer to remain locked in the boundaries of their old culture, instead of integrating with the culture of the local society. Their only interaction with the mainstream society is to demand ever-increasing accommodation on religious grounds, whether in the work place or at school. As per the figures he has cited, the level of poverty among these Pakistani-origin immigrants is far higher than that in the society of Toronto in general.

Here, it is pertinent to note a comment that was made recently by Rosie Dimanno, a columnist with Canada’s pre-eminent daily, Toronto Star. Although the context is completely different, her comment is very apt for the event we are discussing. After the Alberta MLA, Ms. Sandra Jansen switched parties (from PC to NDP), she received a lot of insulting and improper messages from people. In her first address in the Legislative Assembly after switching sides, Ms. Jansen read some of these messages aloud. Her intention was to highlight how difficult it is for women to be in politics, and she succeeded in attracting not only a favorable response but, in fact, a standing ovation from the house for her tale of woe. Ms. Dimanno, however, saw this matter from a different angle, and commented that in todays’ world, with social media dominating the scene, people saying nasty things about others is a fact of life – irrespective of whether what is said true or false. If one wants to be in public life (and especially in the ‘mosh-pit’ of politics) one needs to develop a thick skin. In Ms. Dimanno’s words, Ms. Jansen needs to ‘man up’.

In a similar vein, the Muslim community also needs to ‘man up’, instead of forever complaining about this or that grievance. Objections raised by ‘perennial objectors’ lose their significance. Moreover, objections raised in an uncivil manner are counter-productive. – CINEWS

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5 Comments

  1. Joe Hason
    December 2, 2016 at 6:40 am Reply

    No it’s not O.K. to sit during the anthem. It’s pathetic. No respect for these losers.

    1. Darshan
      December 5, 2016 at 6:23 pm Reply

      Thank you for your feedback. I apologize for these gentlemen’s behavior.

  2. KW
    December 5, 2016 at 10:41 am Reply

    Disgraceful article. Nothing more than bigoted news. There is freedom of expression in Canada, each individual has Thier right to either stand or sit. Please go read the charter of rights. How do you know the supposed culprits are of south Asian as opposed to born Canadians.

    1. Darshan
      December 5, 2016 at 6:09 pm Reply

      Accusing anyone raising a voice of criticism of bigotry does not help in a dialogue. We newcomers are focused excessively on rights (w.r.t. your raising the Charter of Rights) and lack awareness of our responsibilities. Taking cover behind Freedom of Expression to show disrespect is an abuse of that freedom. Disrespecting the cherished traditions of the host nation will not earn us any sympathy for OUR cherished traditions from the society of the host nation. If you read carefully, I am saying that this approach only empowers the likes of Kelly Leitch, who has proposed to screen incoming people for ‘Canadian values’. Keep this up and we will have achieved deep divisions in Canadian society, to our detriment.

      1. Dune
        December 9, 2016 at 11:59 am Reply

        You are 100% right . People who hide behind freedom of expression in Canada
        know they doing wrong .. but no matter what they want to force their agenda.
        Shame!

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